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Good communication. The number one requirement I see in job specs and the first skill I often used to see on CVs (or resumes for my American friends) back in the days when I did 20-odd interviews every month. It was also the one skill that when questioned in interviews, almost always tripped people up. When asked what good communication looked like I would often get answers such as “answering emails promptly” and “picking up the phone instead of emailing”. While correct in the most basic form, effective client communication goes so much deeper than this and I personally think is one of the most important things to nail to keep your clients happy.
Clients ask me every day to sort something out I’ve never done before, be it having difficult conversations with contractors, sorting out tech issues or working on a platform I’ve never used before.
One thing I have learnt is that there are generally only two skills you need to breeze through tricky tasks like a pro and have your client thanking their lucky stars you are by their side: resourcefulness and effective communication. How you get the job done is *almost* as important as actually getting it done. You may be the best at funnel set-up in Kajabi, but if you can’t communicate that to your client in an effective way, then they are likely to be ambivalent to your services at best.
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How Effective Client Communication Can Improve Your Business
- Despite being viewed as a fairly basic requirement, I find people that possess truly great communication skills are actually quite rare to find. Consequently, if you can really hone your skills in this area, it can quite easily put you head and shoulders above your competition.
- Messy communication is costing someone. If you do project or package work, this is you, or on a retainer model, your client. Writing and then reading six different messages across three platforms in a day is not a good use of either of your time. As service providers, it is our job to save our client time or generate more revenue. Reading a gazillion messages when you could have sent one is not achieving either of these things.
- Communication isn’t as easy to intuitively get right when you are working and communicating completely online. As humans, we are liable to jump and fill in the blanks, which can lead to feeling disjointed. From there, negativity, conflict and dissatisfaction can filter in really quickly.
- I genuinely believe that getting your communication right is the key to a happy client and happy clients lead to a much less stressful life!
- Happy clients will improve your retention rate (much easier and more cost-effective than continuously sourcing new ones) and they are more likely to go and tell all of their peers about which will hopefully create zero-effort leads on your part!
7 Tips for Creating an Effective Client Communication Framework
Every client (and their business) is different and you will therefore need to tweak your communication process accordingly. My structure is 80% standardised and with a 20% flex to personalise for each client’s preferences.
The aim here is proactive, simple and streamlined. It’s a fine line between under and over communication though; you don’t want your client staring at the ceiling at 2:00 am in the morning wondering where you are with that project, but you also don’t want them to be swimming in 837364 emails, Voxers and Slack messages.
1. Review Your Onboarding & Offboarding Processes
The beginning and end of your working relationship is often the part of client communication that service providers think about most, and with good reason. How you start your relationship sets the tone and should get them excited to work with you. Onboarding is also key in setting boundaries and managing expectations, both of which are critical for a successful client relationship.
Offboarding is just as important to ensure your client has everything they need and avoids emails dragging on for months after your relationship (and therefore your payment) has ceased. Done well, it can also turn your client into a raving fan and generate passive leads for years to come. You can learn about what to include in your offboarding processes here.
2. Implement (and use!) a Shared Project Management System
While these are frequently used in many businesses in some capacity, I often find they aren’t being used to their full potential in terms of communication. This is absolutely key because not only will it keep you on track, your client will be able to go in whenever they want to see exactly where you are with projects or tasks and when you have scheduled to do them.
If you send them an email, they have to read it and it is kind of like updating them on your terms rather than theirs. Giving them this level of visibility also helps build trust, even if they only hop on once every few weeks or so!
The beauty of a PM system is they get an almost live and completely comprehensive level of visibility of what you’re up to and what’s in the pipeline. It also puts the decision in the client’s hands as to how often they want updates and when they decide they do, they can get one instantly, rather than writing an email and then waiting for your response.
I use ClickUp which also has a fab “dependency” feature where if you need something from your client before you can complete a task, you can set it as a dependency so that your task can’t unlock until the client completes theirs – a nice little visual reminder to your client what you need from them to do your job 😉
3. Limit Communication Channels
The more communication platforms you use, the messier it becomes. Ask your clients in your onboarding form what platforms they wish to use (I give a tick list of options) and then go with that.
After I bit of trial and error, I have found that best structure is using email for “formal” communication (think letting your client know you will be out of the office for a few days next month), Slack or Voxer for day-to-day comms and then PM software chat or comment function for questions on specific tasks.
I recommend trying to use platforms that you only use for work (i.e. not social media) as you need to be able to set boundaries around your client work and if you see a DM pop up during your weekend scroll, you may feel compelled to read it!
The key is deciding on your platforms in conjunction with your clients, keeping to as few as possible and then sticking to it.
4. Communicate Intentionally
Before you fire off that random email to your client, write it down on your notepad. If it is not actually stopping you from doing your work, don’t ask it now. Get to the end of your work block or day and then send one concise email, or Slack/Voxer message (because of the nature of these two platforms, it doesn’t have to be one message, just more that they are sent around the same time).
I bet you don’t have just one thing on that list to ask them anymore and it can appear chaotic and a bit annoying to your client if they have had to respond to six different messages that have filtered in throughout the day.
You may also find out the answer yourself in the meantime and the fewer questions you ask your client that you can figure out yourself, generally the better. I am not saying that you shouldn’t ask your clients questions, because you absolutely should, but be intentional with what you ask them, it should be genuinely something you cannot find out the answer to yourself.
5. Weekly Status Report
These are gold. If you are doing a project for your client, give a brief project update with what has been achieved that week, what stage in the process you are at and what is planned for next week (along with a reminder of anything you need from them to complete your tasks).
If you are on a retainer model, add in a bullet point list of what you achieved this week, what is on deck for next week and crucially, how many hours you have used and how many hours are remaining in the retainer. This saves any awkward questions from your client when you “suddenly” run out of hours halfway through week three of the month.
This is often the only email I will send a client each week.
6. Watch your Tone & Language
This is definitely something that is more important in the virtual world because so much communication context is lost when we aren’t face-to-face.
Re-read every email before you press send. Do it aloud if you can; have you struck the right tone? I come from a very corporate world and try as I might, my natural email tone sounds bland, formal and cold. Every time I re-read I have to swap out a few words for less formal synonyms and add in an emoji or exclamation mark so that my client doesn’t think I am a robot, annoyed with them or even worse, that I don’t care about the work I do for them.
Another thing to watch out for, particularly if you are a specialist in something techy, is the language you use. Don’t assume your client knows what you’re talking about, go off their cues and language to gauge their level of understanding about what you do and adjust accordingly. Again, I can be guilty of this (something about systems gets me all excited to use long words I think?!) but I know there is nothing more frustrating for my clients than receiving an email and not having a clue what I’m talking about.
7. Ask for Feedback
You will need to adjust your framework slightly for each client. With new clients, I err slightly on the side of over-communication until they either tell me to stop or when we get to the end of our first month working together and I straight up ask them.
It can sound scary, but getting a clear idea of what your client’s views are will give you the tools to improve your service to them and over time, build your confidence as well! This will help you work out whether your client needs a bit more of a high-touch approach or is more go-with-the-flow.
That’s A Wrap! 7 Ways to Effectively Communicate to Your Clients
Creating a comprehensive communication strategy and then implementing it is an essential foundation for creating a positive and efficient client relationship and will elevate the quality of your service.
It is also a key component to creating long-term clients, which is way easier than continually having to find and then onboard new ones!
While onboarding and offboarding processes often get all the focus, don’t forget to take some time to reflect on your existing client communication and see where you can tweak it.
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